A Nation of Widows: Why Any Honest Discussion About Iraq Must Include the Plight of Women
By Rose Aguilar, AlterNet
Posted on March 6, 2009, Printed on March 11, 2009
In the run-up to the March 20, 2003 invasion of Iraq, then President George W. Bush, Laura Bush, and Condoleeza Rice took to the airwaves to assure the world that their main goal was “liberation,” especially for women. Almost six years after the first bombs dropped, the women of Iraq have all but been forgotten.
Last month, Nawal al-Samarrai, Iraq’s State Minister for Women’s Affairs, quit her job to protest a lack of resources and government support. She faced the daunting task of helping women with a budget that had been slashed from $7,500 to $1,500 per month.
“I think it is wrong to stay as a minister without doing anything for my people, especially in this time and in this situation of Iraqi women -- we have an army of widows, violated women, detainees, illiteracy and unemployment -- many, many problems. I had to resign," she said in an interview with National Public Radio.
Al-Samarrai says there are more than three million widows in Iraq, most of them with children and without a social safety net or steady source of income. Because so many men have been killed by consecutive wars, some estimates put the rate of women to men at 65/35.
As the six-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq approaches, the voices of the women who are dealing with growing unemployment, violence, and seclusion are still missing from the conversation about the continued occupation and President Obama’s decision to keep 50,000 troops in their country.
A new book attempts to give those women a voice and examine why military intervention and occupation have failed to “liberate” them. In What Kind of Liberation? Women and the Occupation of Iraq, authors Nadje Al-Ali, Reader in Gender Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and Nicola Pratt, Lecturer in Comparative Politics and International Relations at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, write, “Official rhetoric puts women at center stage, but we show that in reality women’s rights and women’s lives have been exploited in the name of competing political agendas.”
The authors also challenge the widespread held belief in the Western media and among many U.S. politicians that something inherent in Middle Eastern, Muslim, and Iraqi culture is responsible for the ongoing violence, sectarianism, and systematic erosion of women’s rights in Iraq. “We argue that it is not Islam or ‘culture’ that has pushed Iraqi women back into their homes. Instead we blame specific and rapidly changing political, economic, and social conditions as well as a wide range of national, regional, and international actors,” they write.
When the Western media does highlight the plight of Iraqi women, they almost always fail to note that Iraqi women activists have been organizing since the 1920 revolution against British occupation. The Women’s Awakening Club, the first women’s organization in Iraq, was founded in 1923. The Iraqi Women’s Union, a feminist organization founded in 1945, tackled previously taboo issues such as prostitution, divorce, workplace issues, child custody, and property rights.
“Iraqi women were once at the forefront of the region with regard to women’s education, labor force participation, and political activism,” write Al-Ali and Pratt.
They argue that it is essential for antiwar movements to address the issue of women’s rights and resist U.S. imperialism simultaneously. “Any analysis of what went wrong in Iraq must put gender firmly on the agenda.”
AlterNet caught up with Nadje Al-Ali on a recent visit to San Francisco. Al-Ali is founding member of Act Together: Women’s Action for Iraq, a UK-based group formed in 2000 to campaign against the economic sanctions on Iraq and since late 2001, the U.S. invasion of Iraq. On August 1, 2007, Al-Ali’s uncle and 16-year-old cousin were killed in their home in Baghdad by unmasked gunmen.
Read the Rest of the Interview Here: http://www.alternet.org/story/130338/
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7 Reasons You Should Join the March on the Pentagonon March 21, 2009
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1 The war in Afghanistan is expanding and widening. President Obama announced last week that another 17,000 troops are on their way to Afghanistan. Only 18 percent of Afghanis support this escalation and only 34 percent of the people of the United States approve of the added troops despite the president’s popularity, according to the Washington Post/ABC poll announced on February 17, 2009. This is a colonial war. The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, was not involved in the decision to add more occupying troops into his country. Rather, he was “informed of the deployments in a telephone call with Obama” on February 17, according to the Washington Post (February 18, 2009).
2 About 350,000 U.S. troops and U.S.-paid private contractors (mercenaries) still occupy Iraq. The Iraqi people want the occupation to end. Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is insisting that only two of the 14 combat brigades in Iraq exit in 2009. The war and occupation of Iraq costs $430 million each day. If the U.S. government were to end the military occupation, any and all future Iraqi governments would return to a position of political independence from the economic and political dictates of the United States. Iraq’s anti-colonial legacy has created a political reality that prohibits the country from becoming like Kuwait or Saudi Arabia--an out-and-out dependency on U.S. imperialism. That is the real reason that the U.S. government fears a complete disengagement from Iraq and an end to its military occupation.
3 Israel’s Siege of Gaza remains in place, with the full backing of Washington. The U.S. government has continued to fund Israel’s war and blockade against the people of Gaza. The Pentagon provided the funding, and technical and logistical support for the establishment of the Israeli war machine, including its massive cluster and white phosphorous bomb arsenal, and the country’s large cache of nuclear bombs.
4 The new Justice Department has announced that it will continue the policy of renditions, meaning the CIA and Pentagon will capture and kidnap individuals anywhere in the world and transfer them to other countries. “The Obama administration appears to have determined that the rendition program was one component of the Bush administration's war on terrorism that it could not afford to discard.” (LA Times, Feb. 1, 2009)
5 The new administration has stepped up the air strikes that are killing an increasingly large number of Pakistani civilians. Unmanned drone bombing attacks violate Pakistani sovereignty and are creating an ocean of resentment and anger inside of Pakistan. The U.S. government has no right to carry out these drone bombing strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. The people of the United States would not accept the legitimacy of other governments ordering air attacks in the United States. We must openly and loudly reject such tactics by the government that speaks in our name and spends our tax dollars for such aggression.
6 The real Pentagon war budget is over $1.3 trillion annually. This is greater than the combined total of most of the other countries in the world, including all the NATO countries, and Russia and China. Some label this “waste spending” because it spends precious resources to build exotic and high cost weapons, a new generation of nuclear weapons, and space-based war fighting capabilities, while filling the coffers of the big investors (i.e., the biggest banks) in the war corporations. Pentagon contracting is often based on guaranteed “cost-plus” contracts that reward price gouging since corporate profit is based on a fixed percentage above their expenses. Another label for this process is “extreme corruption” and theft from the public treasury.
7 More than 20 million people are now unemployed and under-employed. Nine million families are either in foreclosure or are at risk of foreclosure this year, according to the statistics just released by the government. Forty-seven million people are without health care. College tuition hikes are soaring and millions of students are at risk of being forced out of school. The people want change. They don’t want a simple tweaking of Bush’s criminal foreign policies. They want to put people's needs before corporate greed. They want an end to wars of aggression that are wreaking havoc, death and destruction abroad, and diverting urgently needed resources in the service of semi-colonialism and Empire.
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